March 24, 2007

Let me start by saying this is nowhere near a full recap. It’s just some random thoughts. Some of them from before the game, some from after. I just got home and haven’t read what the Pittsburgh papers and UCLA blogs have said.

The end of the season kills me. The cause of all of this might be the fact that the end of basketball season is a bit harder than football. The end of football means the beginning of another year at the Pete. The end of hoops leads to a few months of nothingness.

The Sweet Sixteen is the exact type of talent this team has. We’re certainly not a top 5 team (and how can you be without an amazing recruit?) but we are a top 25 team. I didn’t expect a national championship out of these guys. I do, however, expect players on a top 25 team to make layups. Point blank shots. Tip ins. They lost at least 10 points through missing those type of shots and along with losing those points, it probably end up costing the game too.

Gray (as well as much of the rest of the team) is careless with the ball. He needs to treat it like gold and doesn’t. When you get double teamed, you dish it back outside quickly. Instead, he held it for a while, let the defender get physical with his, and then toss it across the court.

There are all kinds of stats that I could look up for you that involve UCLA really overcoming their season averages. The most obvious one seemed to be free throw shooting. Coming in, the UCLA folks said they weren’t great foul shooters and Pitt fans know that we certainly aren’t. UCLA was 23-26 from the line. Good teams find odd ways to win sometimes — scoring a third of your points from the line is one of those.
Finally, the Dixon-Howland handshake, if you even want to call it that, was incredibly quick. Not sure about what went down.

Expect more breakdown on the ins and outs of Thursday’s game coming over the next few days.

Bottom line: Dixon didn’t get it done when it counted most. Again, I think he’s a good guy that represents the school well…but he’s also simply an assistant coach (at best). It was hard watching the better coach out there last night when we know he should have been our guy. But we lost Howland and we’re left with 29 regular season wins and a lot of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve”s… we hear every year from Pitt and our fans. The team won’t go anywhere unless Pryor comes and that’s a stretch unless Wanny can reel him in for football reasons.

But Dixon’s recruiting of big-time talent aint happening even with Mike Rice. I mean cmon – Woodall? He’s another non-point guard that will play point guard at Pitt…thats a project out of high school for the Big East. Again, elite recruits (especially guards) aren’t coming. I find it hard to watch freakin VCU even have better, more atlethic guards than Pitt. But thats the truth.

Comment by PittPantherFan 03.24.07 @ 12:59 am

UCLA as a whole are not good FT shooters but Collison, Afflalo and Shipp average 70-80% on the year and took 21 out of the 26 free throws.

Comment by Ryan 03.24.07 @ 1:13 am

Not Pitt-related, but a bizarre situation/loophole…
link to

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.24.07 @ 2:18 am

Thanks for that link Dave.

That is pretty wierd. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a guy fresh off of his COLLEGE team get eliminated from the big dance just go ahead and sign with an NBA team in time for, possibly, the playoffs.

So this may be the first time a guy is in the big dance AND the NBA playoffs in the same year. Sounds wrong, probably is, but he exploited the loophole so good for him I guess.

Comment by Jimbo Covert's my dad 03.24.07 @ 4:20 am

It’s strange to read someone post “we’re left with 29 wins”. PITT had a good season, and probably ended up right about where they were able to. Sweet Sixteen is an real accomplishment – just not the place that fans with higher expectations wanted them to be.

But, with the talent we had on them team – and to me gaging from watching some early games and the Tourneys, the team just wasn’t that talented – that’s a pretty good year. No one player stood out, or was consistent enough to be counted on having a good game day in and day out. Forget about not having “NBA Talent” as I’ve read on this and other sites, they didn’t really have top notch college talent. I can’t see complaining about how it went given the circumstances – and, if anything, I think you have to give Dixon credit for taking them this far.

Comment by Reed 03.24.07 @ 8:07 am

Really, do we have to analyze a “handshake” now. Who cares about that stuff and I don’t really care to discuss Howland at all. I like Howland as a coach and respect what he did for Pitt, but he wasn’t John Wooden. When will Pitt fans just forget about him and move on.

Comment by TMGPanther 03.24.07 @ 9:19 am

According to Sportsline, Pitt shot 7 of 18 on layups (38%).

Comment by Mike 03.24.07 @ 10:21 am

Dokish gives a very good analysis of the teams involved in the Sweet 16, and the amount of top 50 recruits they had on their team.

Not surprisingly, every team that advanced to the elite 8 had more top 50 recruits on their team than the team they beat.

I’m not a big Dokish fan, but it’s a good read none the less.

Comment by Ryan M 03.24.07 @ 10:34 am

Dokish is a good reporter with very good information. However, his “analysis” is borderline ridiculous. If one believes his theory, why even watch the games.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 10:53 am

It’s not exactly rocket science to assert that the teams with the better players normally win. Of course Dokish is right.

We watch the games because we’re Pitt fans. Unfortunately being a Pitt fan doesn’t make the players any better. They had the season all of us without outsized expectations thought they would have. I said all year they were a Top 15 team and that’s what they proved to be.

What was frustrating was watching Pitt get ranked in the Top 5 early and reading all the armchair analysts out there as they read statistics and somehow convinced themselves that Dixon had a Final 4 contender.

Comment by tiger paul 03.24.07 @ 11:13 am

I’m not talking about Pitt. I am referring to the teams that are left. According to his theory, UNC and Kansas will be playing in the championship simply because they each have 8 top-50 recruits. Why play the game if this is the case?

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 11:25 am

I would have to agree with Omar here. Having top-50 recruits is nice, but it does not translate directly into on-floor results. Gray wasn’t a top-50 recruit yet he was an All-American. Graves wasn’t a top-50 recruit, yet he held top-50 recruit and consensus All-American Aaron Afflalo to 3-for-11 shooting in Thursday’s game.
Obviously having talented players is important, but there is way more to this game (and building a successful program) than very unscientific recruiting rankings.
Here are some more statistical gymnastics for you. In Kansas’ three-point victory over Southern Illinois Thursday night their 8-0 elite-player advantage was worth exactly 0.375 points per top-50 recruit. The Salukis did not stand a chance 😉

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.24.07 @ 12:06 pm

Still doesnt explain why teams like Marquette and VCU have better guards than we do. How can they recruit more talent than us? We’ve consistently been in the top 10 and we haven’t reaped hardly any recruiting rewards from it.

Like I said – the future is much of the same with kids like Woodall (who never played point guard until this year) is going to come in and play the 1 at Pitt. More projects! Not any Dominic James.

Comment by PittPantherFan 03.24.07 @ 12:45 pm

I’d agree that it’s about that time the program is able to recruit some of the best in the country. And we may not make it past the Sweet 16 unless we do. But, I also believe Dixon deserves credit for taking players that were not the best in the country coming out of high school and making them a top 15 contender year in and year out. That does say something, and it deserves respect. Recruits are starting to look at this program like never before and things will, hopefully, only get better.

Comment by Eric R 03.24.07 @ 1:01 pm

Woodall is not a project. He plays for one of the best high school programs in the country. He will end up being much better than the 3 stars they are giving him now. Bobby Hurley’s father coaches him and has said that he is one of the most talented kids he has had.

Recruiting has already picked up. If we can land Eloy Vargas for the 2008 class, we are looking at a legit national title contender in 2 or 3 years. We would have Levance Fields, Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs, and Cassin Diggs as seniors, Gilbert Brown as a red-shirt sophmore, Dejaun Blair, Bradley Wannamaker, Darnell Dodson, and Gary McGhee as sophmores, Travan Woodall, Nasir Robinson, and Eloy Vargas as juniors. That is 12 scholarship players with at least four players with at least 4 stars (Young, Blair, Vargas, and Robinson). The future is bright.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 1:42 pm

I meant Woodall, Robinson, and Vargas as freshman. I also forgot to mention Austin Wallace as a red-shirt sophmore, although I don’t believe he will ever see the floor at Pitt. That would give us 13 scholarship players.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 1:46 pm

One last thing regarding the top-50 player nonsense. The two top-50 players on Georgetown’s roster are both freshman, Dajaun Summers and Vernon Macklin. I sincerely doubt that any one in the country believes that they are the most talented or most important players on the team. Hibbert and Green were both 3 star players.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 2:15 pm

Omar, Piit made be moving up from 3 star to 4 star, but our competition in the BE is signing multiple 5 star players each. CT, GT, Vil, lou.

Untill we start adding at least one 5 star in the mix, we are still behind. Also, I wouldn’t hold my breath on 4 star Vargas.

Comment by TMGPanther 03.24.07 @ 2:22 pm

Omar, I agree that the player ratings can be a red herring, but if you were the coach would you take take 5 five star players or 5 three star players? Sure some of the five’s will be busts and some of the three’s will develop. I would take my chances with the five’s. How about you?

Comment by TMGPanther 03.24.07 @ 2:26 pm

I have a question about Dixon. Do the regulars here think Dixon has the ability to make his players better? Dan72 commented in the other post about his “sources” and how Pitt’s practices are run. He also commented about a lack of fundamentals on this team – and past Dixon teams, for that matter – and that makes sense if that’s how practices are run.

I think Dixon’s game-time coaching has improved, but I really do have my doubts about whether he is capable of making his individual players better, part of which is getting them to the point where the fundamentals are just ingrained.

Even by the end of the year, Gray still waited too long to make decisions in the post, particularly on the double team, and loved to bring the ball down. Sam Young still would take 3-4 terrible shots each game. Mike Cook would still over dribble or penetrate when nothing was there and turn it over, and throw lazy ass passes that got picked off or that took so long to get there that the half step advantage his teammate would have had was gone. Graves would still penetrate half way to the hoop and get scared and look for the kickout instead of taking strong to the goal. And Gray and Kendall NEVER took it strong to the hoop if there was a defender any where near the goal.

Perhaps this is common on every team – same players making the same mistakes – and I don’t recognize it because I only watch them once in a while but I watch almost every Pitt game.

I know he’s young and still learning, but I really do have serious concerns about whether Dixon and the coaches around him have what it takes to help their players improve throughout the season and from season to season. People will point to Gray and his improvement, and while it was significant, I think a lot of that was just losing the weight and adding a little (but not enough) strength, and he plateaued at the beginning of his senior year.

Next year will be telling. We’ll see if Young and Fields, in particular, start to show real signs maturity and improvement.

BTW, refs have now blown two calls at the end of NCAA tourney games that cost the losing team a victory: the flagrant foul that should have been called on Oden against Xavier and the travel that should have been called on Green last night. That’s shameful.

Comment by Carmen 03.24.07 @ 2:34 pm

Look at Graves development the past 4 years. There is no question that Dixon has had players get better each year.

As for taking four star players over five star players. I don’t think it really makes too much of a difference. The spread between the talent of a top-25 player and a top-50 player is very thin. More importantly, there may be multiple 5 star players that play the same position. I wouldn’t really want three point guards on the roster even if they were all 5 star. No team is going to have a 5 star player at every position. Maybe Duke or Carolina but many of those players get the 5 star rating because they are going to those schools. Once you start recruiting and landing top-50 players and adding them to all of the overlooked upperclassmen, then you have a real chance to advance in the tourney.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 3:23 pm

I think we will get Vargas. If not, Roscoe Davis really wants to play for Pitt and he is very good as well.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 3:24 pm

And Aaron Gray. With all his faults, he got better under Dixon. Dixon won 29 games with this team. He did a good job this year. He’s not the one who missed the lay-ups and tip-ins, and that’s not fundamentals/coaching — that’s the players just executing. They know how to lay-up and tip-in.

Comment by velvil 03.24.07 @ 3:41 pm

Again, Woodall didn’t play point guard for Bob Hurley until this year. So let me understand this correctly: he’s going to play 1 or 2 seasons of point guard in high school and suddenly he’s an impact player in the BE at the 1 position? Yeah ok. That makes perfect sense.

Comment by PittPantherFan 03.24.07 @ 4:00 pm

Great point “PittPantherFan.” Some people here can only see blue and gold.

I think Dixon is a fine coach but recruiting has been a question. Conversely, Wanny is an awesome recruiter but I am not sure if he is a good coach. Most people at his previous nfl stops as hc, were hapy to see him go. However, in college at some traditional powers, he was an outstanding asst. coach.

We have some decent recruits coming in next year-just look at this weekend’s championship games where pitt is represented. However, a glaring hole is at the 5 spot but maybe we can make up for it the way nova did last year.

Comment by scoocher 03.24.07 @ 5:00 pm

Great point “PittPantherFan.” Some people here can only see blue and gold.

I think Dixon is a fine coach but recruiting has been a question. Conversely, Wanny is an awesome recruiter but I am not sure if he is a good coach. Most people at his previous nfl stops as hc, were hapy to see him go. However, in college at some traditional powers, he was an outstanding asst. coach.

We have some decent recruits coming in next year-just look at this weekend’s championship games where pitt is represented. However, a glaring hole is at the 5 spot but maybe we can make up for it the way nova did last year.

Comment by scoocher 03.24.07 @ 5:00 pm

Also for those who don’t like doke’s blog-stay off it then! No need to comment on his abilities in the comfort of cyberspace a@#holes!

He is stopping it soon anyway but unlike the rest of us-he actually is a sports reporter! Not for the sporting news or si, but plenty more than what some of you do (or even think you do).

The guy that runs this blog (Chas, I think) at least recognizes he’s a fan and not a qualified reporter-provides a nice service anyway, that I appreciate.

Comment by scoocher 03.24.07 @ 5:08 pm

He didnt’ play point guard because there was somebody ahead of him. The kid is 5’10”, point guard is his natural position. By the way he has very good athleticism for his size, evidenced by the fact that he can easily perform a windmill dunk.

Comment by Omar 03.24.07 @ 5:28 pm

if we are unable to land a top recruit–suggest we start to recruit more “pure shooters”–like Routins of SU–who can consistently hit 3pt shot from long range. Hell, maybe a walk on who can only shoot (J Maile?) who was a star on his CYO team could help out! May have to compensate by going more to a zone defense–but that may keep our kids fresher over a long season. Not having played the game I don’t know about all of the possibilities–but Ramon and Fields should both work on their dribble penetration, and maybe Fields should shed some pounds to improve his quickness. And please, next year, keep the big men near the hoop–this perimeter stuff to bump the cutter only serves to get us in foul trouble. The other emphasis next year has got to be foul shooting–we are leaving too many points on the foul line. And if you see how close these games are in the tournament, you see how important that is–we should make an effort to get a quality shot, and or get to the foul line on every possession. Maybe I am in the minority–am over the UCLA game–it is a credit to the team and Dixon, that with average talent they won 29 games, and have won 80% of their games since he is the
head coach.

Comment by pitt60 03.24.07 @ 7:13 pm

Keith Benjamin and wind-mill dunk to…he stinks.

Comment by scoocher 03.24.07 @ 11:20 pm

Keith Benjamin is not a point guard. He finishes well when he gets to the basket, but getting there is his problem. “Stinks” is probably a little strong. He may have a year next season similar to the year Graves had this year. All I’ve read on this site and others is that our guards are not atheletic enough. If we bring in a PG that is only 5’10”, and he can windmill dunk, that’s a step in the right direction.

Comment by HbgFrank 03.25.07 @ 1:27 pm


Comment by HbgFrank 03.25.07 @ 1:29 pm

Woodall has actually grown a couple of inches since the beginning of the year and is now listed at 6’1″. I think he is going to be a very good player at Pitt.

Comment by Omar 03.25.07 @ 1:54 pm

omar, Dokish never said whoever had the most top 50 players would win. He just pointed out, correctly, that Pitt has a lot fewer than every other team that advanced to the Elite 8. You don’t read very well.

Comment by Mark 03.26.07 @ 6:03 am

He implied that the team with the most top-50 recruits wins almost 100% of the time. He even mentioned the fact that Georgetown only had 2, but they had yet to play a team with any. UNC had 8 top-50 players and they lost to Georgetown. UCLA also only had 3 top-50 players and they beat Kansas who also had 8. So much for that theory. I can read very well.

Comment by Omar 03.26.07 @ 2:25 pm

I have a hard time understanding how anyone can debate an assertion that the teams with the higher-ranked recruits generally win. Not exactly an earth-shaking theory…..

Dokish was calling attention to the fact that it actually applied universally during that round of the tournament, which also isn’t too surprising.

We know — the next recruiting class for Pitt is always going to be the answer. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll take those 4 and 5 star guys. Sure, there are always going to be total busts in there (like Biggs), but I’ll still take my chances with the higher-rated guys.

It won’t take much for Woodall to be better than Fields.

Comment by tiger paul 03.26.07 @ 2:59 pm

One can debate the notion because it isn’t true. Look at Duke and UCONN for example. It’s nice to have a bunch of five star recruits, but if you don’t it doesn’t mean you should stop playing. Georgetown has two top-50 recruits, both are freshman. They are in the final 4. Enough said.

Comment by Omar 03.26.07 @ 4:11 pm

Tunnel vision must be an amusing thing to have.

Think about the recent history of the Duke and UConn programs.

Duke and UConn are the two best examples of why having the higher-ranked recruits almost guarantees making it through the first couple rounds of March Madness. Coach K and Calhoun have been picking the cream of the crop and recruiting 5-star kids from across the country for many years and while there’s no doubt they are also great coaches, the single biggest factor in their long-running success has been the quality of their recruits.

Are they occasionally going to have blips where all their 5-star kids leave at once or they have a couple busts? Sure……but they regroup fast with another huge class of future stars. Duke, for example, has Singler and Smith coming in.

Comment by tiger paul 03.27.07 @ 9:31 am

Another overrated white player in Singler and Smith isn’t all that highly rated.

Comment by Omar 03.27.07 @ 9:47 am

Secondly, having the higher ranked recruits doesn’t guarantee getting through the first two rounds. That is crazy. Having a high seed gives a team the best chance of advancing to the second weekend. UCONN and Duke almost always have a 1, 2, or 3 seed.

Comment by Omar 03.27.07 @ 9:51 am

It doesn’t guarantee it, but it’s the most influential factor. It all starts with having the best raw material to work with, which eventually translates into higher seeds.

I wouldn’t mind having a couple of those overrated white players like Parks, Laettner, Redick and McRoberts. (McRoberts would have had a great career if he would have played alongside some normal Duke players, instead of the recent line of bums.)

Comment by tiger paul 03.27.07 @ 1:32 pm

Laettner was one of the best college players you will ever see. He was one of those kids that played better when the stakes were high. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill play. That was probably the last time Duke and Coach K were tolerable.

Redick was the exact opposite. He withered under pressure and made it to only one final 4 despite being a #1 seed every year. The year he made it to the final 4, he wasn’t even close to being the best player on his team (Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, and Shelden Wiliams).

Your boy, McRoberts played with “great” talent like Redick and Williams last year and only made the sweet 16 (as a #1 seed). Overrated and will be lucky to get a second contract in the NBA.

Parks was a complete bum and I will leave it at that.

Comment by Omar 03.27.07 @ 3:21 pm

Not sure what started you on your Duke bashing, but you’re wrong about what they have coming in — they have 3 McDonald’s All-Americas……the most of any program. Singler, Smith, and King are all rated Top 30 and are playing in the McDonald’s game. I saw Smith play in person and he fully deserves to be rated #22 in the country. These are the type of players Pitt just hasn’t been able to get.

Comment by tiger paul 03.28.07 @ 12:51 pm

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